PARIS: Angry demonstrators took to streets across Iran again Saturday despite Internet cuts, as the protest movement sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death in custody entered a fifth week. The 22-year-old died on Sept 16, three days after falling into a coma following her arrest by Iran’s notorious morality police for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
Young women have been at the forefront of the biggest wave of street protests seen in the country for years. “Guns, tanks, fireworks; the mullahs must get lost,” women without hijabs chanted at a gathering at Tehran’s Shariati Technical and Vocational College, in a video widely shared online. Scores of jeering and whistling protesters hurled projectiles at security forces near a landmark roundabout in Hamedan city, west of Tehran, in footage verified by AFP.
Despite what online monitor NetBlocks called a “major disruption to Internet traffic”, protesters were also seen pouring onto the streets of the northwestern city of Ardabil, in videos shared on Twitter. Shopkeepers went on strike in Amini’s hometown Saqez, in Kurdistan province, and Mahabad in West Azerbaijan, said the 1500tasvir social media channel that monitors protests and police violations.
They were responding to an appeal for a huge turnout for protests on Saturday under the catchcry “The beginning of the end!” “We have to be present in the squares, because the best VPN these days is the street,” activists declared, referring to virtual private networks used to skirt Internet restrictions.
In response to the protests, one of Iran’s main revolutionary bodies, the Islamic Development Coordination Council, has urged people to “express their revolutionary anger against sedition and rioters” after prayers on Saturday evening. A call also went out this week for “retirees” of the Revolutionary Guards to meet on Saturday given “the current sensitive situation”, according to a journalist at Shargh newspaper.
At the gathering, a Guards commander said three members of its Basij militia had been killed and 850 wounded in Tehran since the start of the “sedition”, state news agency IRNA said. The women-led protests have won support from the US president. “I want you to know that we stand with the citizens, the brave women of Iran,” Joe Biden said late Friday. “It stunned me what it awakened in Iran. It awakened something that I don’t think will be quieted for a long, long time.” Iran “has to end the violence against its own citizens simply exercising their fundamental rights”, the US leader added.
At least 108 people have been killed in the Amini protests, and at least 93 more have died in separate clashes in Zahedan, capital of the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, according to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. The unrest has continued despite what Amnesty International has called an “unrelenting brutal crackdown” that has included an “all-out attack on child protesters” – leading to the deaths of at least 23 minors.
The crackdown has drawn international condemnation and sanctions on Iran from Britain, Canada and the United States. Iran’s supreme leader has accused the country’s enemies, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the “riots”. Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, has called on the European Union to adopt a “realistic approach” over the Amini protests as the bloc prepares to impose new sanctions on the Islamic republic.
“Who would believe that the death of one girl is so important to Westerners?” he said in a statement on Friday. “If it is so, what did they do regarding the hundreds of thousands of martyrs and deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon?” he added. EU countries agreed this week to level new sanctions, and the move is due to be endorsed at the bloc’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
In response to the protests, the clerical state’s security forces have also launched a campaign of mass arrests of artists, dissidents, journalists and athletes. Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi said the authorities barred him from travelling to the London Film Festival over his support for the protests. The British Film Institute said Haghighi had been due to attend the festival for his latest film “Subtraction”, but the Iranian authorities “confiscated his passport”. “I cannot put into words the joy and the honor of being able to witness first-hand this great moment in history,” said Haghighi. “So if this is a punishment for what I’ve done, then by all means, bring it on.” – AFP